Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saffron Road - Crunchy Chickpeas

I'm a big fan of Saffron Road's products.  Saffron Road is a socially conscious company that was founded in 2010. Since then, the popularity of this brand has skyrocketed and their products can now be found all over the country in natural foods markets. I previously reviewed their frozen entrees and simmer sauces and am excited to now review their crunchy chickpeas as well.

Crunchy roasted chickpeas seem to be a hot snack nowadays. As a great source of protein, chickpeas can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet. Saffron Road now makes five flavors of these chickpeas, all of which are vegan. I tried three of the flavors -- Falafel, Bombay Spice, and Wasabi.

I have to say that the Falafel was my favorite. With a mix of delicious spices, it is the onion and garlic powder that stick out the most. These chickpeas will take you on a journey to the Middle East.

Then there is the super strong Wasabi! This is a spicy wasabi-flavored snack that will leave you clamoring for some water and then...more wasabi chickpeas! These are incredibly addictive.

Last, but not least, are the Bombay Spice chickpeas that incorporate the bold flavor of Bombay spices. You'll feel like you are skipping through the marketplaces of Bombay while enjoying crunchy flavored chickpeas.

All of the flavors have a really nice texture -- not too hard, but just crunchy enough. And most of all, I like that the chickpeas are organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. They are also certified gluten-free.  At about $5 per bag, these are a great on-the-go snack. They also have two new flavors of Chipotle and Korean BBQ, which I'll be trying next.

Full Disclosure: Although the products were provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mandalay, DC

UPDATE: This restaurant has permanently closed.
Mandalay -- who are you really? It's kind of a mysterious place. This new Burmese restaurant opened a few months ago in the Shaw neighborhood of DC with very little press. What makes it mysterious is that there is another very low-key casual restaurant with the same name and owners in Silver Spring, Maryland, but they have completely different websites that do not link to one another, making it impossible to make the connection unless you are "in the know." I dined at the Maryland Mandalay a long, long time ago and thought it was great casual fare. But, upon arriving at the new Mandalay in DC, it was clear that this was a completely different concept.

This 100-seat semi-upscale restaurant features small plates and a bar atmosphere on the bottom floor and a 7-course tasting menu for $70 on the top floor, by reservation only.  Owned and operated by a Burmese family, Aung Myint is the restauranteur and chef behind both of the restaurants and he is clearly proud of his new venture and trying to work out all the kinks. So I made a reservation for two on City Eats and was surprised to hear from the restaurant almost immediately. They require 24-hour notice of vegan diners and immediately wanted to be sure they understood my dietary needs before shopping for the next day's meals. They start preparing the courses before noon so they appreciate the advance notice, they said.

We arrived on a Friday night in a quiet neighborhood in Shaw. The building looks like an office building more than a restaurant. Inside, it was quite dark and once we found the host, we were escorted up the steps into a large open dining area.  It had a really nice feel to it with dark wood floors, soft white lighting, and nicely upholstered booths and armchairs. All of the tables were spaced out nicely as to allow quite a bit of privacy.

Our waitress asked if we wished to try the pairings -- either alcoholic or not. I went with alcoholic, while my friend went with non-alcoholic. They said they'd be crafting the drinks to fit the courses. There was no menu for food as it was more of a chef's tasting style so we just sat back and waited to see what arrived. They started us off with a very nice green tea. Then, the first course arrived -- two Roman bean fritters with a spicy sauce. They were soft and delicate and had amazing flavor. But, for a fried appetizer, one would have been enough. Unfortunately, they were so good that we each ate both of them, then regretted it later! Oh, and I should mention the carrots carved into decorative leaves are hand carved and pretty impressive.  With this I had a nice dry Vermouth with sparkling wine.

Next, was a fantastic cabbage salad with ginger, fried garlic, and peanuts in a light dressing. It was ten times more exciting than it looks in this picture.

For the third course, we were served a hearty split pea, potato, okra, and eggplant soup. It was great, but needed a little more spice.

The next drink was a cocktail of Malibu rum, cointreau, and lemon juice to accompany the next few courses. The fourth and fifth course were served together. It was at this point that we really realized this was way too much food for a 7-course meal. This was a full entree in and of itself. On one side of the plate, there was an okra and eggplant dish in a spicy jalapeno sauce. It actually didn't have much flavor. On the other side of the plate was this delicious tofu dish with onions and potatoes. It was very good. And they supplied me with some hot peppers to spice it up. We took a few bites and had the rest wrapped up as we still had more courses to go!

For the sixth course, we had mung bean threads with cabbage and red pepper. The pickled veggies on the side really made this dish.

And finally, a dessert cocktail of rum, ale, and brown sugar was served with fried banana spring rolls with a coconut sauce. This was a bit too much fried food and too much banana for me, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it.

At the end of the meal, for not having high expectations upon arrival, I have to say we were pretty impressed. The food was great even though there was way too much of it. But that just gave us leftovers for the weekend!  The service was pretty good and having the chef come out to speak to us was a nice touch.  They even mentioned that the vegan menu is discounted to $50 on Wednesdays, which is an incentive to come out on a weeknight.  The alcoholic drink pairing is $30 while the non-alcoholic is $15.  For $70, it was well worth the money. I'm sold. And now I want to come back and try it on a Wednesday as well!

1501 9th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 644-8806

Mandalay Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Gibson, DC #2

Since first writing about The Gibson back in 2012, I have visited this establishment numerous times for drinks, all with pretty good experiences.  The Gibson is a speakeasy-type establishment located in an old garage on 14th Street, identifiable only by its gray facade as no sign is displayed. My favorite area is the first floor, which is mostly reservations only. I had visitors here from Australia who wanted a unique DC experience and The Gibson was one of the first places that came to mind.

So we headed over on a Sunday night with reservations for 8 p.m. We were seated in the larger room towards the back on the first floor. What I enjoy about The Gibson is that there is no standing allowed. All patrons are seated and it is the quiet, dimly lit environment that contributes to the ambiance of a speakeasy-type place. The menu of drinks changes frequently so it always takes me a bit of time to decide what to order.

My favorite drink of the night was the Red Death made with Mezcal, Raspberry, Root Liqueur, Allspice Dram, Hellfire Bitters, Old Fashioned Bitters, and Peychaud's Bitters. You can never have too many bitters! This made for a delightfully spicy cocktail that we all really enjoyed.

My friend enjoyed the Nailed in a Room, which was made with House Infused Oxley Gin (habanero, lemon, sage) with Grapefruit Juice, Benedictine, Aromatic Bitters, and Simple Syrup. Also, quite spicy!

The Dirty French Novel was another one that we tried made with Bison Grass Rye, Cranberry, Root Liqueur, Lemon Juice, and Decanter Bitters. I found this one to be a bit too strong, but with a nice flavor.

We also tried the So There! for $13, which was made with Mezcal Vida, Fernet Branca, Campari, Allspice, Dram, and Green Chartreuse. I found this drink to be bitey, yet sweet. I really liked it.

To munch, we ordered some of the green olives. They were very fresh.

We had a number of other drinks and all of them turned out to be delightful. What makes this place so unique besides the ambiance is the uniqueness of the drinks. They drinks are handcrafted with bitters and liqueurs that you won't find in many places in the city for just $11 to $16 each. Each one is so unique that you often love it or hate it and if you hate it, you can exchange it for another, no questions asked. For a truly unique drink experience, be sure to check out The Gibson when you are in town. It is a must-visit in DC.

Previous review
August 28, 2012

The Gibson
2009 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 232-2156

Gibson on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kapnos, DC #3

Kapnos again? Yeah, I guess it has become one of my favorite restaurants in DC and a standard go-to now when I have friends in from out of town. Kapnos is Mike Isabella's Greek restaurant that has taken the U Street area by storm.

On this particular visit, I went with five other people at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night.  We started with a bottle of Syrah/Merlot/Xinomavro Kapnos reserve (2011) for $49. This wine was much lighter than I had expected and wasn't nearly as good as I thought it might be. I must admit that we were pretty disappointed with this wine and surprised to see that Kapnos bottled it with their own label as well.

I decided to order four small plates to share while the other half of the table ordered additional plates as well. I started with my favorite Revithosalata, the incredibly good chickpea and tahini spread with sultan chutney served with their buttery flatbread. This was a hit across the table.

Next up, was the Fava, which isn't fava beans at all!  It is a yellow lentil dish with squash, spinach, and pearl onions. I enjoyed this dish, but felt like it needed something more -- maybe more spice or salt...something.

Then, we ordered another of my favorites -- the Gigandes. This dish is quite a piece of artwork with its white gigande beans, onion seeds, bulbs, stems, and flowers. It couldn't have been more perfect.

Lastly, I tried a new dish -- the Braised Cauliflower. This simple dish of cauliflower in a tomato-based sauce with chickpeas and fenugreek was savory and satisfying.

Because we were so displeased with the wine, we switched to cocktails later on in the night. I ordered the Angry Elf, which was spicy and delicious! It was made with espolon reposado tequila, serrano infused yellow chartreuse, lemon, and benedictine with a salted rim.

My friend ordered the Cilantro Gives You Wings, which he was very please with as well. It was made with old overholt rye, peach liqueur, lemon, drambuie, and cilantro.

So while the food is consistently good and the cocktails are fantastic, we were disappointed with the wine and service. There were several big parties there that night and the service was quite slow. It took them a very long time to take our order, then, because, there were so many reservations that night, they ended up asking us to leave so they could make that table available to the next party because we had finished our meals and were just talking. Now, while I can appreciate that they had to keep their reservations on schedule, I wish they could have just acknowledged that it was really due to their slow service that our meal even took as long as it did. That said, they offered to buy us a round of drinks at the bar, which more than made up for being asked to move. So, we left fairly pleased.

Every restaurant has their good and bad days and I won't hold this one against them. Kapnos is a great restaurant to bring any group of people as their menu selection is sure to please just about everyone.

Previous reviews
January 16, 2014
August 13, 2013

2201 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 234-5000

Kapnos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cauliflower Steak with Fire Roasted Garlic Sauce

Cauliflower steak has really taken off as an exciting new entree.  By slicing 1-inch slabs of cauliflower then searing them in a cast iron pan, you get a thick meaty cauliflower steak that, when paired with the right sauce, takes on a flavor of its own. You won't believe this is cauliflower!

This dish was inspired by a jar of Naked Infusions gourmet salsa in Fire Roasted Garlic. I know I keep going on and on about these salsas, but they are incredible. This one is so much more like a sauce than a salsa. Just think of it as a tomato-based sauce with fire roasted roasted garlic. The garlic taste is strong and when mixed with organic tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, sea salt, and spices, you get the perfect sauce to complement the cauliflower steaks.

And for a little more flavor, I added olive tapenade on top of the steaks as well. So you get a seared cauliflower steak in a fire roasted garlicky tomato sauce and salty olive tapenade on top. It is pure perfection. You will find these sauces online or in Whole Foods in California and Texas.

Cauliflower Steaks with Fire Roasted Garlic Sauce
Serves 4

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 1 jar Naked Infusions Fire Roasted Garlic sauce
  • 1 container of fresh olive tapenade (or make your own)
  • Parsley, chopped
Remove leaves and trim stem end of cauliflower, leaving the core intact. Place cauliflower core side down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice cauliflower into four 1" slabs from center of cauliflower.

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook cauliflower steaks until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Once all are cooked, transfer cauliflower steaks to a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast cauliflower until tender, about 15 minutes, flipping them halfway through. In the meantime, heat the garlic sauce on the stove on medium low heat. To serve, simply place tomato sauce on plate, add one steak, and top with olive tapenade. Garnish with parsley.

Full Disclosure: Although the salsa was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ghana Cafe, DC

Ghana Cafe is the one of the few restaurants in DC serving authentic Ghanaian cuisine. I first visited their location in Adams Morgan many years ago, but since moving to Logan Circle, they are much closer to my home base. That said, I don't visit them any more often than when they weren't in my neighborhood because I have a sort of love-hate relationship with them. When I first visited the restaurant, I was very excited to find that they had a separate vegan menu and I really liked the food so I dined there several times. Then, they offered a Groupon a few years ago that really hurt their business. When I tried to redeem my Groupon, I waited over an hour for a seat and hours for my food all with no apologies from the owner or the staff. In fact, they were downright rude. They are a family-run business that really can't handle a fully packed restaurant so the two people who worked that night couldn't handle the hundred or so people who showed up. The entire experience left a bad taste in my mouth and I never went back, that is, until now. So here is my most recent experience.

So upon moving to the hot Logan Circle neighborhood, you would have thought they'd have upgraded some of their decor or at least the neon sign. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When we arrived, my friend immediately remarked that it looked exactly the same as it did in Adams Morgan many years ago. I confirmed that this was an accurate observation.

When we walked in on a Saturday night, we were the only patrons in the restaurant. That is telling. We took a seat at a table in the middle of the restaurant.  The top of each table has Ghanaian flag prints covered in lacquer and Ghanaian flags adorn the walls. We were approached by a young waiter who told us about the Ghanaian beers available that night. We ordered two -- Castel and 33 Export. We enjoyed both of them.

The menu is fairly simple, but with many of the foods being authentic to Ghana, it takes a bit of time to figure out what to order if you aren't familiar with this cuisine. You have a choice of vegetarian peanut soup, spinach and egusi (pumpkin seeds), okra stew, or beans stew with any of a choice of 12 different meals under the subheadings of rice, plantain, corn, and yam.

We started off with the plantain appetizer, which consisted of fried sweet plantains with a tomato-based fresh ground pepper sauce. This was pretty spicy and pretty tasty.

For my entree, I ordered the Jollof rice, which is Ghanaian-style rice cooked in savory seasonings with spinach and egusi stew. I liked the flavors of the spinach stew and the red sauce, but the rice seemed a bit overcooked and underseasoned. The meal definitely needed more spice so they supplied me with some of their hot sauce, which still wasn't that hot. And the entire meal had a bit too much oil for me. That's not to mention that the portion size was humongous!

My friend ordered the Red Red, which was fried plantains with beans stew and gari, which is made from cassava root. This dish was okay, but really needed more spice as well. My friend, however, liked it much more than I did.

Throughout the meal, there wasn't much attention put on good service. In fact, despite being the only patrons in the restaurant, the owner spent the entire time watching sports on the television. His one waiter joined him and seemed to have forgotten about us so much so that we had to get up and ask for the check.

For a divey restaurant with $11 entrees, I guess it is fine for a quick grab-and-go lunch or dinner. But, if you are looking for a unique experience, you can find a better one elsewhere with better service.

Ghana Cafe
1336 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 387-3845

Ghana Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ketchup-Curry Cauliflower

Having just received a sample of Sosu's Ketchup, I decided to use it in to create a Ketchup-Curry Cauliflower dish. This ketchup is made with two pounds of freshly picked organic California tomatoes. There is no tomato paste, no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial preservatives.

In this dish, you mix the ketchup with curry paste to make a curry that thoroughly coats the cauliflower. To be completely honest, it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. It is definitely an easy, quick meal to make, but I really prefer the ketchup as a condiment. This ketchup is really unique in that it is sweet and tangy -- and it also isn't red. It's more of an orange color. That makes me wonder what goes into making most ketchups red!  The only ingredients are tomatoes, apple cider vinegar,  cane sugar, and sea salt. If you find this in your grocery store, definitely give it a try. Okay, on to the recipe.

Ketchup-Curry Cauliflower
Serves 2

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp curry paste (be sure it does not contain fish sauce)
  • Head of cauliflower, broken into bite-size pieces
  • 4 Tbsp water
  • 4 Tbsp Sosu Classic Ketchup
  • Fresh parsley
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt to season

Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook until browned for about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower and cook until browned, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes. Add the ketchup and water and mix to coat the cauliflower being sure to mix the curry paste in as well. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve over quinoa, if desired and garnish with parsley. A squeeze of half a lemon in each dish gives it the oomph it needs.

Full Disclosure: Although the ketchup was provided to me for free to review, that in no way influenced my veracious opinion.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Natural Products Expo West 2014 - Day 3

After the final day of Expo West, I feel so energized and alive. I've heard that the show broke attendance records this year and it was evident by just how hard it was to even walk through the aisles! So many people, so much excitement, and so many great vegan products.

Here are my faves from the final day in no particular order:

#1 Health Ade Kombucha

#2 Nii Foods Bars

#3 Amella Acai Berry & Chia Caramels & Vegan Caramel Sauce

#4 Beanfields Bean & Rice Chips in [Vegan] Ranch

#5 Hail Merry Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Macaroons

#6 Dr. Praeger's Kale Veggie Burgers

And that's a wrap! I'm going to miss all my good friends in the food industry....until next time! Now, I just can't wait to fully review all these great products. Look for full reviews coming soon!